A modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift



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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

  • Introducing the Selection
  • Literary Focus: Verbal Irony
  • Reading Skills: Recognizing Persuasive Techniques
  • Feature Menu

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

  • And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.
  • Ernst Fischer (1899–1972)

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

  • Opening Others’ Eyes
  • How would you get people’s attention?

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

  • Irish harvests had been poor for years.
  • Jonathan Swift faced such a situation in the late 1720s, when starvation was widespread in Ireland.
  • Farmers couldn’t pay the rents demanded by their English landlords.
  • Beggars and starving children filled the streets.
  • England’s policies kept the Irish poor.

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

  • Appalled by the misery in Ireland, Jonathan Swift set out to make the English more responsive to their neighbors’ suffering.
  • He wrote a pamphlet—a shocking satire that offered an outrageous “solution” to the problem of famine.
  • [End of Section]

A Modest Proposal Literary Focus: Verbal Irony

  • Verbal irony occurs when a writer or speaker says one thing but really means something quite different—usually the exact opposite.
  • You overslept, forgot to feed the dog, and are coming down with a bad cold. Someone asks you how you’re doing, and you respond, “Just great. I wish every day could be just like this one.” You have just used verbal irony.

A Modest Proposal Literary Focus: Verbal Irony

    • It will be most beneficial to student athletes if they are allowed to coast through school. After all, why take up precious space in their brains with math or social studies when they have a whole playbook to memorize? Getting a college degree is overkill when you already know how to protect a quarterback, shoot free throws, or pitch a shutout.
  • Is this writer being sarcastic? How can you tell?

A Modest Proposal Literary Focus: Verbal Irony

  • The irony in Swift’s essay begins with the title: “A Modest Proposal.”
  • [End of Section]
  • Here the word modest means “not bold; limited in size, amount, or scope.”
  • You’ll find that Swift’s proposal is anything but modest. To the contrary, it is outrageous and extreme to the point of absurdity.

A Modest Proposal Reading Skills: Recognizing Persuasive Techniques

  • “A Modest Proposal” is a classic example of persuasive writing used for the purpose of satire.
  • Watch for these persuasive techniques:
  • Logical appeals use evidence such as facts or statistics to support a position.
  • Emotional appeals use words that arouse strong feelings.
  • Ethical appeals establish the writer’s sincerity and qualifications.

A Modest Proposal Reading Skills: Recognizing Persuasive Techniques

    • As you read, note some of the persuasive techniques and their ironic effects using a chart like this one:
  • Passage
  • Type of Appeal
  • Irony
  • “. . . of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couples whose wives are breeders. . . .”
  • logical (uses statistics)
  • The word “breeders” is dehumanizing, yet Swift is actually making the point that women are human beings, not animals.
  • [End of Section]
  • A Modest Proposal Background
  • using a straightforward, sober style while presenting appalling content
  • assuming the voice of a practical economic planner
  • Ultimately, Swift is protesting against England’s lack of compassion for the poor in Ireland.
  • [End of Section]
  • A Modest Proposal Background
  • He risks appearing as a monster himself in order to expose the monstrous behavior of others.
  • According to Swift, a numerical or statistical view of poverty is unethical; it reduces people to breeders and babies to meat.
  • Swift uses statistics in his “proposal” as a satirical device.
  • Vocabulary
  • Previewing the Vocabulary
  • sustenance n.: food or money to support life.
  • glutted v. used as adj.: overfilled.
  • deference n.: respect.
  • scrupulous adj.: extremely careful and precise in deciding what is right or wrong.
  • censure v.: condemn.
  • expedient n.: convenient means to an end.
  • A Modest Proposal Vocabulary
  • Previewing the Vocabulary
  • digressed v.: wandered off the subject.
  • procure v.: obtain; get.
  • brevity n.: being brief; shortness.
  • animosities n. pl.: hostilities; violent hatreds or resentments.
  • A Modest Proposal Vocabulary
  • You can understand a word better by comparing it with other words that have similar meanings.
  • One way to compare words is to pair them according to intensity of meaning:
  • Low Intensity
  • scrupulous
  • careful
  • expedite
  • plan
  • A Modest Proposal Vocabulary
  • High Intensity
  • Low Intensity
  • criticize
  • admiration
  • full
  • [End of Section]
  • Vocabulary Activity: Intensity Chart
  • Fill out the chart using the Vocabulary Words listed.
  • High Intensity
  • Low Intensity
  • dislike
  • turned
  • curtness
  • glutted deference censure animosities brevity digressed
  • censure
  • deference
  • glutted
  • animosities
  • digressed
  • brevity
  • A Modest Proposal Vocabulary
  • Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was born in Dublin of English parents. As a child, Swift was abducted by his nurse and taken to England for three years. He was later returned to Ireland, where he was cared for by his uncle. As an adult, Swift regarded himself as more English than Irish.
  • [End of Section]
  • A Modest Proposal Meet the Writer


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